Annnnnnd I was all down to jump on the next Trump scandal train until I read the word “unsubstantiated.” Another story used the word “uncorroborated.” Another used the word “unverified.” Whoops!
I mean, not that the Trump scandal train was going anywhere important, truth be told. We know that. That dude’s quote about shooting a guy on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight without consequences was entirely true; nothing’s going to stop Trump voters from trying to make America Hate Again. A month down the line, they could prove every word of these reports true and publish a picture of Trump in Putin’s lap and you’d still have old folks in mill towns grousing about “well, to my understanding, Putin doesn’t like them weirdo gays much either…so really, it’s not that big a deal.”
But folks, if you don’t have substantiation, you don’t have a story. This isn’t even bad reporting, this is non-reporting. These are kids gossiping at the proverbial lunch table. These are rumors about what Trump and a girl he’d been hanging out with did behind the bleachers last Friday. It is absolutely nothing, and will accomplish nothing beyond continuing to distance mass media from its own electorate.
If someone doesn’t take back the press from people whose only goal is to make money off the damn thing, then this “post truth” culture that gets mused about in HuffPo thinkpieces is going to settle and you’re never gonna scrape it out. If you keep printing brazenly biased half-truths and “unsubstantiated” rumors, what you’re gonna get is a bunch of people going “well I’m gonna get lied to anyway, I might as well get lied to by people who agree with me.”
Facts. Facts and figures and statistics are literally the only things that will communicate a point beyond a reasonable doubt. You can’t make people’s minds up for them; there is not a Trumpster in the world whose mind has been changed by a Daily Kos editorial — this is because Daily Kos’ obvious bent means that Trumpsters do not read Daily Kos. No Clintonite bothers, similarly, with the Conservative Tribune and therefore did not see the blistering rant they published on that venerable page. The best way to make a point is to state the facts — just the facts — and then back up a step and let your audience do the mental work of following your logic themselves.
But if you, as a capital-I-Institution, give people ammunition like publishing “unsubstantiated” claims that Donald Trump pulled some kind of pseudo-R. Kelly nonsense, what you’re going to get is not a derailment of the presidency both you and I want to see go down in flames. What you’re going to get is the people who put him there in the first place going “well you just want to see him fail,” calling you on your bias, and resuming their full-throated support for the man.
They won’t even blink. They don’t give a damn what Donald Trump did behind the bleachers. They don’t even sit at your lunch table. They think the kids at your lunch table are elitist snobs who don’t listen to what they’re saying, and there’s no quicker and more complete way to alienate someone than to convince them you don’t care what they have to say.
I mean, if it were true, then, yeah, absolutely horrifying. (Probably won’t stop him, but still.) But until you’ve got proof — until your reports are fucking verified — then it’s a lie, and will remain a lie, for all intents and purposes.
If you don’t want to induce a post-truth culture, where places like Breitbart and AddictingInfo (and I am not linking to either of those because they don’t deserve even the meager amount of traffic this might give them) rule the public consciousness with little to no accountability, then you do not write a story until you’ve gathered every relevant concrete fact. Otherwise, all you’re doing is proving every Trumper yelling about the press absolutely correct.